On the campus of Airbus’ Alabama manufacturing facility, construction crews are completing the early phases of a project that represents the next chapter of the aerospace company’s U.S. growth plans.
Work on the A220 aircraft assembly line in Mobile is moving forward rapidly, just months after high-ranking Airbus executives joined state and local leaders at an official groundbreaking ceremony at the site.
“We are well into construction,” said Greg Ellis, vice president for program development at HPM, the Birmingham-based firm overseeing the project. “The site is full of tower cranes and tons of yellow equipment. It looks like ants on a hill right at the moment.”
For HPM, the new project is a déjà vu moment. The firm oversaw the construction of Airbus’ A320 Family manufacturing facility at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley industrial park, a $600 million investment that gave the aircraft maker its first U.S.-based commercial aircraft assembly site.
The facility now being built on the Mobile campus is also strategically significant as it will allow Airbus to produce a second aircraft type in Alabama — the single-aisle A220 passenger jet to meet the demands of U.S. airlines.
It’s also an extension of the partnership the Alabama firm has forged with Airbus.
“The relationship with Airbus has played an integral role in the growth of HPM, and we’re honored to expand our partnership on the new A220 assembly line,” said Ryan Austin, chief operations officer at HPM. “Through past projects, we have cultivated a mutual respect and keen understanding of the strategic processes and objectives for each organization.
“Those symmetries will enable us to deliver a top-caliber facility that will help Airbus to achieve its production goals and will ultimately contribute to increased growth and prosperity for the city of Mobile and state of Alabama,” he said.
Though the groundbreaking ceremony was staged just five months ago, HPM’s work on the project actually started in spring 2018, when it began working on programming efforts with Airbus and its A220 partner, Canadian aircraft maker Bombardier, according to Ellis.
HPM then teamed with the engineering and development firm Mott MacDonald, a partner on the A320 project, to draw up a master plan and assemble the design build and construction teams for the new project.
HPM tapped Brasfield & Gorrie, which built the A320 assembly line, for the same role in the A220 project. Another Birmingham-based firm, BL Harbert International, is adding four hangar bays to support A220 and A320 production.
Both are moving forward for a fast-track delivery for Airbus, which aims to begin assembling A220 aircraft at the site this summer.
Ellis said BL Harbert has topped out the steel structures for the new bays and begun pouring slabs and enclosing the buildings. Brasfield & Gorrie is already into steel construction and prepping areas for an underground tunnel that will run within the assembly line.
“They’ve got all the foundation systems installed and all of the temporary shoring. They are closing in on about 50 percent completion with the building of the final assembly line,” Ellis said. “Over the next 60 days, we’ll start to install roof and exterior wall systems once they get the steel far enough along.”
A future phase of the project calls for an expansion of the delivery center on the Airbus campus, where more than 120 Alabama-made A320 Family aircraft have already been delivered to eight U.S.-based airline customers.
“This will be a nice enhancement to the facility there and will bring a little more prominence and ceremony to the delivery of aircraft in Mobile,” Ellis said.
Once the new facility is at full production, Airbus plans to build four A220 aircraft each month.
The company is hiring more than 400 workers to staff the new assembly line and is also adding jobs to increase production of A320 Family aircraft in Alabama. Read a story on Airbus’ hiring plans.
The A220 project’s accelerated timeline has prompted HPM to take a different approach than the one it used with the original assembly line.
“This is a bit more streamlined. We are designing while building, while we are prepping for equipment to be installed, so that as soon as things are tested and approved, we can begin working with the operations team to bring aircraft through the facility,” Ellis said.
Another challenge for HPM is that the heavy-duty construction work must be performed on the site of a major manufacturing facility.
“We cannot in any way, shape, form or fashion impact their ongoing operations. That is a unique challenge in and of itself,” he said.
Since completing the A320 assembly line project for Airbus, HPM has been involved in several large-scale aerospace and aviation projects, including Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new advanced manufacturing facility in Huntsville, and expansion projects for MRO companies VT MAE and HAECO Americas.
Earlier this year, HPM was selected to help Boom Aviation locate, design and build a manufacturing facility for its planned supersonic airliner. Two years ago, HPM began its work alongside the properties and facilities teams of FedEx Express throughout the U.S. managing airport and runway projects, enhancing sorting facilities and renovating offices.
“The A320 project was really our launching pad into aerospace and aviation,” Ellis said.
“When you work for an international client the size and magnitude of Airbus, and you satisfy and please them, the rest of the world stands up and takes notice,” Ellis said.
This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.